Autistic Book Party, Episode 80 and a half: Short Story Smorgasbord

Mary E. Lowd, “The Most Complicated Avatar” (Daily Science Fiction, July 2012)

[Autistic author] When I said that Lowd was at her best writing about children and virtual reality, she directed me to this story, and I scratched my head because I could have sworn I’d reviewed it before. But back in 2012 I didn’t know Lowd was autistic, so the review went in one of my other posts – maybe on Livejournal? – which appears to be lost to the mists of time. Anyway, I re-read this one and it’s still good; it’s about a child living through a messy divorce who runs away; and whose mother finds her by connecting with her in the virtual world. I really appreciate what this story is doing, and especially the way that the daughter’s own technology-mediated way of looking at the world is taken seriously – the way it /must/ be taken seriously before anything can resolve. [Recommended-2]


Kiya Nicoll, “Of Winter and Other Seasons” (Climbing Lightly Through Forests, January 2021)

[Autistic author] Using the metaphor of treasures buried in ice, this poem describes parts of the narrator’s experience that they were able to recognize in Ursula K. LeGuin’s writing. It’s a nice meditation on how people find and understand themselves through stories. [Recommended-2]


Jennifer Lee Rossman, “If That Cowbird Don’t Sing” (Penumbric, December 2022)

[Autistic author] The narrator here is a non-speaking autistic child, who unconsciously remembers being a changeling, and who manifests psychic powers during a meltdown, with mixed results. It is not my favorite of Rossman’s stories – it feels rushed and unclear in places – but I like what it does with changeling myths and the cowbird metaphor, showing how deep the narrator’s feeling of being foreign and unwanted goes, and how seemingly small moments can result in unbearable frustration. Many of my readers will relate. [YMMV]


David Far, “New Friends” (Penumbric, June 2023)

This story revolves around a brilliant marine biologist named Iris; after the death of her brother, her friend comes to check on her. The two of them, in sorting out their grief, also discover a secret that could save the world. The narrator is not Iris but her childhood friend James, and at times his descriptions of Iris feel clumsy or othering. (“Iris must have been the only expert on communication that didn’t look people in the eye during a conversation,” goes one clunker of an early line. As if autistic people who study communication aren’t a real thing?) But in the end the day is only saved because people took Iris’s communication preferences – and her deep connection to her dolphin friends – seriously. I will forgive a lot in a story that goes like that. [YMMV]


Robin M. Eames, “Ghosts in the Smoking Area” (Sunder, Issue 1, July 2023)

[Autistic author] A vivid tribute to queer elders, their formative role in the community, and the ways so many of them have been lost too soon. [Recommended-2]


S.T. Eleu, “Paradox Lost” (Haven, Issue Ten, August 2023)

[Autistic author] After his grandfather homophobically murders his lover, the protagonist of this poem invents time travel for the express purpose of killing his grandfather before the hate crime occurs. This doesn’t end up where I thought it would. The ending might feel like a cop-out to some readers, but I appreciate its insistence that we don’t always have to pay the prices we tell ourselves we must pay in order to set things right. [Recommended-1]


Louise Hughes, “The Only Way Out” (Small Wonders, Issue 2, August 2023)

[Autistic author] I really appreciate this short, quietly angry story about a woman who helps abuse survivors disappear into a new life. When a mother and daughter come to her with an unusual request, she re-evaluates the assumptions behind what she’s doing – and take a risk to help them. It’s a gentle story despite the subject matter – no lurid details, only a sense of poignant desperation. [Recommended-2]


R.B. Lemberg, “Firebird, Stormbird” (Strange Horizons, September 25, 2023)

[Autistic author] Birds, and firebirds in particular, have been an important symbol in Lemberg’s work for a long time. Dousing a firebird with water might seem likely to put out the flame, but instead the bird in this poem only transforms, as powerful and uncontrollable as before. [Recommended-2]